Turkey’s Foreign Ministry has expressed its objection to a recent agreement between the United States and the Greek Cyprus for the construction of a new training center, warning that the move could further undermine peace and stability in the region.
Turkey and Greece are engaged in an age-old territorial dispute, which has escalated in past weeks over Ankara’s energy exploration bid in the Eastern Mediterranean.
“The MoU signed between the US and the Greek Cypriot administration on Sept. 12, 2020 and envisaging the establishment of a ‘Land, High Seas and Port Security Center’ in the Greek Cypriot administration ignores the Turkish Cypriot side,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a statement
The Turkish official pointed out that the establishment of a new border security training center on the Greek-controlled side of the island of Cyprus will fall short of consolidating regional peace and stability.
“We call on the US to return to its traditional policy of neutrality regarding the island and to contribute to the efforts to resolve the Cyprus issue,” the ministry statement added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo earlier this month unveiled Washington’s plans to lift a decades-long arms embargo on Greek Cyprus and boost its security cooperation with Nicosia.
Aksoy said the US lifting of the arms ban and the inclusion of the Greek Cyprus in its International Military Education and Training (IMET) program would further complicate the situation.
“The steps taken by the US, such as lifting the arms embargo on the Greek Cypriot Administration and including the Greek side in the military training program disrupt the balance between the two peoples on the island and increase tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Aksoy said.
During a stop in Nicosia from Doha on Saturday, Pompeo condemned Turkey’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean, while explicitly backing Greece.
“We remain deeply concerned about Turkey’s ongoing operations searching for natural resources in areas over which Greece and Cyprus assert jurisdiction in the Eastern Mediterranean,” Pompeo said.
On his brief visit, the US state secretary signed a memorandum of understanding with Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides on the construction of the new border security training center funded by the US.
“The Republic of Cyprus has the right to exploit its natural resources, including the right to its hydrocarbons found in its territorial sea and its exclusive economic zone,” he added.
Pompeo, however, left without meeting with any Turkish Cypriot officials.
Since 1974 when Greece and Turkey almost went to war over Cyprus, the island has been divided into a northern part run by a Turkish Cypriot administration recognized only by Turkey, and a southern part governed by the internationally-recognized Greek Cypriot government.
In the meantime, Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis, which has been at the heart of the standoff between Greece and Turkey over gas exploration in the Eastern Mediterranean, is back at a port in southern Turkey.
On Sunday, Refinitiv ship tracking data showed that the Oruc Reis, along with two accompanying vessels, had sailed to waters near the southern province of Antalya.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis welcomed the move as a first positive step and a potential prelude to launching bilateral negotiations towards resolving the dispute over offshore drilling rights, which started with the discovery of the first gas deposits in the Eastern Mediterranean in 2011.
But Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar ruled out any possibility of Ankara “giving up our rights there.”
“There will be planned movements backwards and forwards,” Akar said Sunday.